U.S. President George H. W. Bush, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker in Munich, June 1992
U.S. President George H. W. Bush, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and U.S. Secretary of State James Baker in Munich, June 1992
Michael Urban / Reuters

Yes, Germany is becoming more assertive in foreign policy. This is all to the good for the United States.

It is not that German instincts will prove any more infallible than American instincts. Bonn will be right in some cases, such as pressing for destruction of all battlefield nuclear weapons and recognizing Slovenia and Croatia as a means to help end the fighting in Yugoslavia. It will be wrong or irritating in other cases, such as raising German interest rates to record heights at a time of world recession.

More important than the compatibility of specific German judgments—and the interests of the world’s two largest exporters should, in fact, often coincide—is the general German assumption of some of the American burden of leadership in Europe. This, as much as declining military expenditures, should free Washington to get on with its own post-Cold War domestic agenda.


Germany’s lightning unification was, in Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s phrase, a catalyst for Europe. It gave urgency to west European integration as the only way to provide neighbors with leverage over the new German colossus. It combined with the plans for "1992" to revive a dynamism the continent had lost to the United States and the Soviet Union. It furthermore paved the way for the reentry of eastern Europe into Europe proper, and it clarified the eventual terms for any entry into Europe by the Russian outsider.

Unification thus promoted both European integration and trans-Atlantic comity rather than hindering them. The Federal Republic is leading the way toward the European future not only because it is finally converting its economic weight into political power, but also because it made the original conceptual leap to a post-national European identity four decades ago. The Germans were forced to surrender their sovereignty and tribal patriotism in 1945; their social glue has long since passed beyond heroic chauvinism to the more humdrum—but safer—cohesion of prosperity and constitutional legitimacy. Today’s policymakers in Bonn were inoculated against national hubris in their formative years, when they discovered that their parents had tolerated Hitler’s industrial murder of Jews and gypsies in the name of Germany. The much more nationalistic French and English, having been spared such shame, still face the painful loss of narrow patriotism as the European Community (EC) assumes more authority.

Moreover the Germans, with considerable powers already distributed to jealous länder (in a way that was not artificially imposed on them by World War II victors but was an outgrowth of centuries of splintered principalities) will adapt nicely to the new regional-based dynamics of Europe 1992. Neither Paris nor London has yet reconciled itself to such decentralization. Economically, politically and intellectually, Germany is uniquely a country whose time has come in a continent whose time has come again.

In this context it makes sense for the United States to continue to give priority to its bilateral relationship with the Germans whom President Bush had in mind in early 1989 when he anointed them "partners in leadership." Events in the train of unification are, in any case, creating their own enormous pressures on Bonn to exert leadership in Europe. And while conventional wisdom presumed that the new fully sovereign Germany must necessarily flex its new leadership in "renationalization" of defense—and in rebellion against its encumbering European partners and erstwhile American patron—a strong case can now be made for a contrary thesis of intensified cooperation among the allies.

Chancellor Kohl and other older Germans in high office feel an urgent need to knit their country into an interwoven Europe before ceding their posts to a generation they fear might be less inhibited by German history and therefore less European. And many Germans, who in the past enjoyed invisible American security but felt morally superior because they did not have to dirty their own hands with fighting, may well gain more appreciation for the United States as they themselves inherit part of the old American security function.

Conversely many Americans who previously deemed Germans pusillanimous may, in the post-Cold War era, gain an appreciation of the German art of cooperative, ambiguous solutions. The United States may come to see differences with Germany and with Europe less as zero-sum clashes of interest (the view that prevailed during the Reagan administration) than as joint searches for the maximum common good (the view that has generally prevailed in the Bush administration).

Certainly the Germans have demonstrated this spirit in promoting European integration. The French and all other realpolitiker assumed that the Federal Republic, having achieved its desired unification, would have less need for allies and would demote them—unless Paris bound it firmly to European Monetary Union before unity occurred. Yet the Germans have so internalized positive interdependence and the negative risks of solo operations that they themselves are seeking not only monetary union but also a political union that would go far beyond any pooling of sovereignty the French or British are prepared to accept.

Similarly German habituation to the stability provided by NATO’s collective defense disposes Bonn to perpetuate NATO so long as there is any risk of unpredictable events in the neighborhood. Every Bonn government has explicitly acknowledged this advantage; Yugoslavia’s irrational civil war and the messy breakup of the Soviet Union have now spread recognition of this advantage more broadly among the general public. Moreover President Bush’s unstinting support for unification in 1989-90 showed the Germans the benefits of maintaining an alliance with a large, distant friend who is not as burdened by European history as are Germany’s neighbors. The French-German relationship will always form the core of the European Community, but the Germans will also need, for a long time to come, a less parochial counterweight to Paris and London.


Given this extended welcome, the United States should maintain its political engagement in Germany and Europe. The new European security task will be first to stop wars at the periphery—in the anachronistic Balkans and perhaps in the remnants of Russian empire—and then to spread the voluntary democratic west European peace eastward and southward as the EC magnet exerts its pull. With no Eurasian superpower requiring the obvious counterweight of the American superpower in Europe, this new security task belongs primarily to the Europeans—and is so understood by them for the first time since 1945.

The tranquility of Europe is also important to the United States. The reasons that compelled Washington to intervene late in World Wars I and II are all the more compelling in our present world of greater economic, financial and informational interdependence. Today’s ultimate threat of nuclear annihilation surely counsels preventive engagement to help maintain a benign political system in Europe, rather than another belated intervention after events have spun out of control. America still has an important role to play in the 1990s in ensuring Europe against remote nuclear risks and providing the kind of outside political balance the Europeans have come to rely on.

The U.S. function at this point is less existential than auxiliary, in assuring a smooth transition to a stable Europe in the new environment. But as the Soviet empire decomposes, possibly giving rise to the kind of turbulence that followed the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, American commitment in this time of transition is still crucial for the well-being of both the United States and Europe.

The precise architecture of the new system in Europe is difficult to discern; the multiplicity of overlapping institutions blurs the lines of responsibility. The EC and NATO are clearly the dominant institutions. But there is a long list of relevant others: the Western European Union (WEU), the Council of Europe, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), the fledgling North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the United Nations, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the European Court of Human Rights. Regional groupings, individual national governments, European and especially German businessmen, and other actors will also participate in stabilizing the new Europe.

Even before it enters the confederal European Union targeted for the end of the century, the European Community will be the central organization that all others will increasingly relate to, not only in economics but also in security. The United States should not be deceived by the agonizing birth pangs of political and monetary union—or the inability of "Europe" to halt the bloodshed in Yugoslavia short of Serbian and Croatian exhaustion, or the German preoccupation with bolstering its new eastern regions—into thinking that the EC will lapse into its slumber of the 1970s and early 1980s.

All German policymakers and all major political parties now agree that the German future can be secured only within a uniting Europe; they will continue to press for this. All non-Germans agree that the energies of a Germany that now has a third more population than France, Britain, or Italy can be safely channeled only within the larger framework of the EC. And all west Europeans agree that they can meet environmental and terrorist challenges and migration pressures from east and south only as a cohesive unit.

Especially after German unification, then, the EC is condemned to succeed. As the Maastricht summit of last December demonstrated in writing a constitution for a European Union, the dynamic is no longer the lowest common denominator, but rather the scramble not to be left out. Even Britain will be carried along in this momentum. And even those Germans who in wake of Maastricht suddenly protested future loss of their "lovely deutsche mark" will find that Kohl has deliberately locked them into the European Currency Unit (ECU), and there is no turning back.

Responding to the new demand and to German prodding, the 12-nation EC is simultaneously "deepening" and "widening," as the Germans already anticipated in fall 1989. Having formally committed itself to collective social and foreign, as well as economic, policy, the EC will now admit members of the European Free Trade Association in the 1990s; Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, probably around the turn of the century; Slovenia and the three Baltic states probably thereafter, for a membership of 25 by the early 21st century. In the course of doubling its size, the EC will set the economic and political norms that applicants must meet in order to join the club. This means not only business, trade and tax harmonization—Poland, for one, has already adopted EC economic legislation—but also observance of human rights, protection of minorities, safeguarding of free elections and, of course, renunciation of any changes of borders by force.

The EC disposes of strong incentives and disincentives to encourage such civilized behavior in the neighborhood. Much as they insisted that post-dictatorship Spain and Portugal meet democratic criteria before being admitted to the Council of Europe and the EC in the 1970s, so will west Europeans insist now that the east Europeans play by the rules. The sanction of withholding EC membership from recidivists should go far toward discouraging, say, reversion to the kind of praetorian rule that prevailed in eastern Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. The EC will take the lead not only in organizing Western financial aid to the east to undergird democratization—and in opening its markets, perforce, to eastern exports in lieu of opening its borders to millions of poor immigrants—but also in educating the new democrats in the difficult skills of pluralism. In all of these responses the Germans will be in the forefront.

The United States can watch these developments with equanimity. A new Germany and a more cohesive, more powerful democratic Europe that can take over some of America’s security burden on the old continent is all to its advantage, whatever the short-term frustrations in facing a more-or-less single ally that is suddenly bigger and richer than the United States. The United States should therefore support European evolution and increase its direct dealings with the EC in line with progress toward political unity in the region. President Bush made the correct decisions in 1989 and 1990 in opening full diplomatic relations with the EC and in deferring to the EC the lead in dealing with the economic development of eastern Europe and the Yugoslav civil war. Washington should trust this instinct and not go back to the resistance of previous American administrations to letting Europe mature into an equal ally.

Unitary diplomacy with the EC will, of course, never fully supplant bilateral diplomacy with individual European countries, any more than bilateral diplomacy displaces direct contacts, say, between the U.S. Department of Commerce and economics ministries in European lands. Bilateral contacts will continue, not least with Germany, to be the driving force of European integration. But Washington should no longer insist that European national governments negotiate everything bilaterally and severally with Washington, no longer protest that any coordination of a single European policy prior to U.S.-European talks would constitute ganging up on the United States.

Such a divide-and-weaken approach maximized immediate American influence in the atomized Europe of the 1970s and 1980s, and it could be argued that this hectoring style was often needed to force urgent decisions through NATO’s 16 sluggish sovereign parliaments in the clear and present danger of East-West confrontation. In the past the German government often tacitly preferred this approach, since it allowed Washington to ram decisions through the alliance that Bonn actually wanted but could not itself deliver politically. As the NATO maxim had it, the Europeans loved to be led by the United States—just so long as it was in the direction the Europeans wanted to go.

Whatever functions this unequal relationship served in the past, however, it would now be much more useful to have what the United States has always said it wanted: an equal defense pillar in Europe for the trans-Atlantic bridge.

Despite their closeness the United States and the EC will of course have trade disputes that cut across common security interests. In very broad economic terms both the United States and Germany should avoid the trap that many fear in the post-Cold War era: removal of former outside restraints on West-West economic squabbles through disappearance of the overarching Soviet threat.

Especially as American export lobbies grow stronger, the temptation to indulge in all-out chicken or corn-gluten wars can presumably be avoided in national import legislation and in continuing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade negotiations in the 1990s. The beggar-thy-neighbor reflex may be much harder to resist after the turn of the century, however, when the ECU of a real European Monetary Union inevitably supplants the dollar as the world’s main reserve currency, and the United States can no longer "tax" European and Japanese holders of its debt by inflating the dollar.

Certainly both sides of the Atlantic are aware of the dangers. It should not be beyond the wit of the Americans and Germans in particular, with their stakes of direct investment in each other’s economies at $25 billion and $34 billion respectively, to stop playing chicken. Germany, which exports a third of its gross domestic product, and the United States, which exports more than a tenth of its larger GDP for a volume close to Germany’s, should be natural allies in wanting as open a world trading system as possible. There remains, however, a problem of international trade issues being crowded off the German agenda because of Bonn’s absorption in eastern reconstruction and EC institution building. But, so far, the United States has more complaints about a lack of German leadership against French agricultural protectionism than about excessive flaunting of German weight.


Before the opening of the Berlin Wall the consensus seemed to be that NATO was suffering from congenital and perhaps terminal crisis; that American and German interests in particular were bound to clash as postwar Germany and its "successor generation" came of age; that only Moscow could offer reunification to the Germans, for a price; that (in the right’s formulation) Gorbachev was playing the peace and disarmament theme so cleverly that Western publics, swept up in "Gorbymania" and the fading Soviet threat, would outrace themselves to disarm and leave Moscow to dominate Europe; that (in the left’s formulation) the United States could no longer impose bipolar confrontation on Europe; that the Americans would or should tire of paying for European defense and American hegemony and go home; that the Europeans would or should respond by accommodating themselves to the Soviet Union. Implicit in much of this analysis was fear that the weakness of open Western societies would prove vulnerable to the strengths of the Soviet command society.

After the opening of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the consensual worry still maintained a kind of half-life among certain analysts. Even if NATO survived, it was thought, a newly sovereign Germany no longer dependent on American security would deem NATO a shackle "keeping the Germans down." Surely the united Germans would, in another widely used image, "hollow out" their commitment to the alliance and expel Western allied troops from their territory. Or Germany might revert to aggressive behavior and become the "Fourth Reich." Or—under the prevalent international relations theory that national function follows international form—once the opposite pole of the bipolar world vanished, the nations clustered around the American pole would inevitably fall into anarchy, "renationalization" of their defense policies and amoral shifting alliances of the nineteenth-century variety. Under unstable multipolarity, even western Europe might succumb once more to war as long suppressed ethnic conflicts exploded in the east and spread west. After all, alliances are unnatural, the reasoning went, and endure only so long as a mortal threat exists.

In part the abrupt ending of German and European division in 1990-91 has transformed those earlier premises. In part it has exposed them as false, or at least incomplete, from the beginning. With some surprise the allied governing elites are discovering that the reports of NATO’s demise were greatly exaggerated. The raw need for ready military forces able to repel any standing-start attack—NATO’s nightmare for so long—has vanished. And NATO, as the only institution politically able to keep the Americans fully engaged in Europe, is too useful to too many nations to be given up lightly.

Thus, as 1990 presented NATO with a clean slate in security arrangements, Europeans reacted differently from what was anticipated. The most important player, the center-right government in Bonn, not only did not regard a continued stay in Germany by American and other allied troops as onerous, but actively desired it. So did German voters, who reelected the government two months after unification with a decisive majority and totally forgot their previous war angst.

To be sure, West German enthusiasm for America and NATO could be abnormally colored at this point by gratitude for Washington’s stalwart support for unification against the French and British (and Soviets). But there probably will continue to be numerous issues in which German stakes will coincide more closely with American than with French or British interests, and Germany will value its augmented influence in European councils arising from its American connection in NATO. Indeed it is natural for Germany to want to retain NATO’s military prowess and practiced political crisis management. The Atlantic alliance is the sole international organization with an integrated military command adaptable to a variety of situations. It is an existing institution that can perpetuate the American habit of political engagement in Europe—so long as the numbers of GIs in Europe decline substantially—without requiring generation of impossible new popular American support for this involvement. It is a forum the Europeans trust and understand. The Germans and the British—as well as the former Soviet republics—realize that maintaining NATO is the only way to keep the Americans in Germany, as all wish to do. And, after almost two years of balking, the French too have finally resigned themselves to the fact that the Americans will not remain in Germany as "mercenaries," and that their price for the extension of U.S. engagement that the French also desire must be French acceptance of NATO’s role and of a continued American political voice in Europe.

Inevitably adjustment to the post-Cold War world has raised questions about how Europe might strengthen its own security "pillar." The logical solution was proposed by Chancellor Kohl and French President François Mitterrand in late 1990, then modified by the British and elaborated by WEU foreign and defense ministers in February 1991, in the heat of the Gulf War. In brief the Western European Union would be resuscitated again and become eventually both the security arm of the EC—nine of whose twelve members belong to the WEU—and the bridge to NATO. The WEU’s embarrassing lack of armed forces would be rectified by "double-hatting"—assigning those European national divisions in NATO’s multinational corps to WEU command for European tasks. These European mix-and-match units would wear NATO caps on occasions when American participation was important, WEU berets when European-only forces were called for. And they could include troops from France and Spain, which remain outside NATO’s integrated military command but are both WEU members.

The idea grew out of WEU ad hoc coordination of west European efforts in the Persian Gulf in 1987-88 and 1990, a solution that relieved NATO of exceeding its writ in running operations outside the territory of its members—and preserved French amour-propre by not requiring French forces fighting in Iraq to be placed under NATO command.

Initially the Americans spurned the whole idea of setting up WEU troops under a double-hat arrangement. They certainly relished the prospect that Europeans might do more for their own defense and thus relieve the Americans. And they welcomed the WEU aegis for "out-of area" operations by European forces otherwise assigned to NATO; that, in fact, seemed to be the main mission the United States and Britain postulated for WEU forces. The Americans did not like the notion, however, that WEU states might decide to engage in hostilities on their own, independent of the United States. What if European adventurers got in over their heads, they asked, and needed to be bailed out by the Americans? What if the Europeans, with little independent satellite intelligence and no independent airlift, then embroiled the United States in wars Washington did not want to fight?

The questions overlooked the fact that all the frictions of the previous two decades had involved American adventures and prudent European reluctance to use military force, and not the reverse. They also ignored willing American aid to Britain in the latter’s Falklands war and the liberal distribution of American intelligence information to friends and even foes in the Mideast. As the skewed perspective of the objectives dawned on American officials—and as Yugoslavia looked as if it might eventually need European peacekeeping forces—American protests faded. By the Maastricht summit, President Bush also approved the designation of the WEU as both the European "pillar" of NATO and the EC "defense identity."

Development of a coordinated European defense capability can now relieve the United States of what it has long felt was an excessive share in the burden of maintaining security in Europe. It can facilitate any further out-of-area expeditions the allies might decide are necessary. And, in the hidden agenda, it can make available European units with U.S. logistics and intelligence that might be able to intervene in emergencies not only in the Middle East, but also in nearby eastern Europe.


Initially, as bipolarity ended in 1989-90, it was widely thought that the NATO system (if it survived) would apply to the Oder-Neisse line, while the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the "Helsinki process") would apply east of there to the Urals. The NATO universe, with its practice of allied consultation and cooperation (whatever the intramural fights along the way), would constitute a family of shared values and democratic rules for working out compromises; a mutual commitment to active collective defense of the territory of all members against any outside aggression would be maintained. The CSCE universe, bringing together much more disparate nations, would be a much looser regime of collective security in which any sanctions against aggression or intimidation would have to be agreed on ad hoc—and in unanimity.

In the past two years this geographical line of demarcation has shifted eastward to the Bug River, in part because speedy Soviet dissolution removed the need for kid-glove treatment of the former superpower’s former European empire, in part because the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians themselves refused to be shunted off to the second-class security of CSCE. Instead they have been striving for an ever closer link to the more muscular security of NATO. That link is being provided by the new North Atlantic Cooperation Council, invented in a joint U.S.-German initiative. The Cooperation Council, while open to all the emerging European states—and the forum Boris Yeltsin chose for his bid for Russian membership in NATO—conspicuously expresses a special NATO interest in the security of the new democracies of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

In CSCE, as in the EC (and jointly with the United States in NATO), the Germans are the movers and shapers. Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, after a few weeks in early 1990 in which some Washington officials feared he was trying to substitute a flabby CSCE for NATO as the basic guarantor of security in Europe, has come to view CSCE instead as an important adjunct to NATO and the EC. Its Conflict Prevention Center, authorized only days before fighting erupted in Yugoslavia last summer, has been overshadowed by U.N. and EC attempts to end the civil war there. It might still turn into a serviceable umbrella organization for any peacekeeping forces, however. And it usefully enshrines the pledges of all its members not to change international borders by force.

CSCE is, moreover, the most likely sponsor of further necessary agreements on military transparency, confidence-building measures and further cuts in conventional weapons in Europe. All are areas in which further German initiatives may be expected. And the CSCE already set the guidelines of human rights, rule of law and other forms of decent behavior that were so important in opening up Eastern Europe in the 1980s and early 1990s. The EC, with its far more stringent democratic and free-market membership norms than the minimum guidelines of the consensus-bound CSCE, is the main engine of the spread of the Western system into east-central Europe. And Germany in particular is the main economic rewarder and enforcer.

In dealing with the Commonwealth of Independent States, the West no longer faces quaint arguments over whether Gorbachev was just duping the West with his talk of reform; whether the West should "help" Gorbachev; whether glasnost was just a suave word for slick public relations; or whether Soviet agreement to German unification might constitute a German "Stavrapallo" sellout. Everyone now agrees that there are emergency shortages in major Russian cities and that the West should help the new states avoid social explosions. The Germans may bridle at American generosity in deferring Soviet debt repayments of Western (mostly German) loans, but this quarrel is not in a league with, say, the Reagan administration’s suspicion that German and other European sales of oil pipeline and compressors to Moscow a decade ago represented a betrayal of the West. Nor are there marked political differences between Washington and Bonn over the urgent need to support democratization in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the Baltic states.

In this endeavor Germany will clearly be the leader, both financially and intellectually, both unilaterally and through the EC. Bonn is contributing half of all the international aid to the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe. Economic development of Saxony is designed to help stimulate next-door Silesia and Bohemia in a regional cooperation effort that deliberately reverses the German contempt for Slavs of a half-century ago. German investment and trade in eastern Europe and its hiring of cross-border Polish and Czech labor far exceed the economic involvement of any other Western country.

In addition German jurists are already helping the Estonians write a constitution, aiding the Hungarians in adopting the entire German civil code and sponsoring meetings of justice ministers from east European and Soviet successor states. The German Social Democratic, Christian Democratic and Liberal think tanks are sharing the techniques of political and social organization in eastern Europe as they did 15 years ago in Spain and Portugal. The more liberal German Catholic Church has some impact on the more medieval Polish and Lithuanian Catholic hierarchies—as do the German Protestants on the Latvian and Estonian Protestants. There are scores of bilateral student and teacher exchanges; training programs for business managers and local administrators; workshops for parliamentarians, legislative staff and librarians; joint history and textbook-writing projects; and city partnerships. Grass-roots Polish-German and Czech-German environmental, "friendship" and other societies are mushrooming. Riga is awash in German delegations. The Goethe Institute outposts are facilitating the flow by spreading knowledge of German language, politics, culture and counterculture. The Germans are particularly suited to help nurture democracy in eastern Europe because of their own relatively egalitarian society (by contrast to the French and British) and by their own postwar experience in turning an authoritarian into a democratic mentality.

There is no cause for alarm here, as the French in particular have expressed it, about German cultivation of a special sphere of influence in the region. On the contrary, the United States should welcome the burst of German activity and try to match it with its own exuberant grass-roots exchanges among the Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian émigré communities in the United States.


Is there domestic support for a constructively assertive German role in the world? The short answer is yes, since continuity is guaranteed in the virtually certain reelection of Christian Democrat Kohl in 1994. The long-term answer is also yes, since the political mood is increasingly tolerant of greater German activism. There is no sign of a public backlash, on the contemporary American pattern, against the Kohl-Genscher foreign engagement.

In narrow politics Kohl is in an enviable position. Whatever the trend in state elections this year and next, opinion polls keep showing a solid 40-percent-plus federal level of support for the conservatives, only 30-percent-plus for the Social Democrats, 10 percent for the swing-vote Liberals and 6 percent for the left countercultural Greens. The rule-of-thumb lifespan for German federal coalitions is about a decade, and the Liberals, having joined with the conservatives in 1982, would ordinarily be ready to jump back to the arms of the Social Democrats just about now.

A center-left coalition is a mathematical impossibility in the present Bundestag, however; the east German communist successor Party of Democratic Socialism would be an unacceptable coalition partner, but it holds enough seats to block a center-left majority. The PDS, elected under special regional rules for the first unified election in 1990, will fail to get over the five percent minimum in 1994, but the Greens will, in all likelihood, be back above five percent and will take over that spoiler role.

The extreme right, by contrast, will not come back above five percent to play Kohl’s spoiler, barring some unforeseen economic depression. The Republikaner Party rose from nowhere to get over five percent in protest votes in local and European elections in 1989, but unification deprived them of their subliminal nationalist appeal, and by 1990 they had split into squabbling factions; they now get only two percent in opinion polls. Nor do the well-publicized acts of hostility toward Third World foreigners by skinheads and sympathizers translate in Germany, as they do in France, into substantial political support for the extreme right.

More broadly there is wide public acceptance, in western Germany especially, of an expanded German role in the world. This starts with European affairs, which by now are regarded by all as domestic politics. German worry about absorption of the deutsche mark into the ECU is understood by the political players as dueling about the terms, not the fact, of currency union. Conservatives, Social Democrats and Liberals alike agree that German leadership within Europe, even if Bonn is everyone’s "milk cow," is far more advantageous to Germans themselves than a go-it-alone Germany in a European free-for-all. All agree as well that Germany must pay to promote economic development in east-central Europe or be flooded by immigrants. German taxpayers will continue to grumble, but out of recognized self-interest they will also continue to dig into their pockets.

NATO is equally uncontroversial and continues to enjoy support by two-thirds of the western population, though less from eastern Germans unused to being members of it (or even thinking about it, except when a pollster asks). Attitudes on the related presence of American troops depend very much on the cues in survey questions. When it is linked to the planned Soviet troop withdrawal (as in the RAND-sponsored poll in late 1991), a slight majority of Germans reject continued stationing of American troops in Germany; when it is linked both to Soviet events and to maintaining stability, however (as in the USIA-sponsored poll in the middle of 1991), it wins 60 percent approval in western Germany, half that in eastern Germany.

Politically the most relevant point here is that NATO and the American forces are simply no issue now. There is no more nuclear war scare or quarrel over nuclear stationing as in the 1980s; beyond that, the Gulf War has split the old left. Therefore there is today no antiwar movement to speak of. Nor do any of the political parties object to American use of forces stationed in Germany for operations in the Middle East as some did in the 1970s. Nor does the old Social Democratic chancellor candidate and enfant terrible, Oskar Lafontaine, now seek German withdrawal from NATO’s integrated military command. Nor do the Social Democrats complain about the presence of American forces; on the contrary, they are much more apt to complain about the loss of jobs as Americans withdraw. With time the east Germans too—who are in any case too preoccupied with economic survival to pay much attention to anything as abstract as military alliances—will undoubtedly be socialized into this routine acceptance both of NATO and of the reduced American forces. Further unrest and clashes in or between Soviet successor states would accelerate this socialization.

Participation by German troops in any peacekeeping operation out of the NATO area is a more sensitive issue, of course. Even here, however, both government officials and opposition spokesmen see a consensus forming gradually, and the Bundeswehr is certainly being restructured in a way that would make rapid-reaction forces available once a political decision were made. The real key will be less the forthcoming constitutional overhaul to tidy up German unification than the acceptance of pan-European solutions to military, immigration, environment and other policy knots that, on the purely national level, would remain intractable. Moreover if the Social Democrats hesitate too long before joining the center-right consensus, the conservatives are prepared to legalize German military participation in out-of-area (outside NATO) peacemaking as well as peacekeeping operations by simple majority legislation rather than seeking the two-thirds majority now required to amend the constitution.

The best description of the public mood today would perhaps be acquiescence in, but little enthusiasm for, the domestic duty of subsidizing eastern Germany for two decades or the foreign duty of greater German activism. Kohl is widely faulted for having grossly underestimated the costs and time needed to bring east Germany up to west German levels and for not having rallied the Germans to sacrifice when the novelty of unification might have appealed to their idealism. Yet politically this failure makes no difference; there is no alternative to Kohl.

In foreign policy, despite the curious French interpretation of German strong-arming of EC recognition of Croatia (that Bonn was yielding to domestic nationalist pressures to flex German muscle), the German public could hardly care less about the Balkans, apart from wanting to see an end to the fighting. The German in the street remains resolutely nonnationalistic.


Managing Soviet collapse, German ascent and east European transition will not be easy. Preserving the congruence between democracy, prosperity and peace east of Germany will not be easy either, especially in the midst of rising expectations, world recession and pent-up nationalist animosities in the erstwhile Soviet empire. Yet the means of maintaining essential European security are at hand—those that will give positive political and economic evolution the best chance, much as America’s improvised trans-Atlantic security guarantee of the late 1940s gave West Europeans the space to construct their economic and political miracles.

In this developing system of the 1990s, the two critical powers on the continent are now the United States and the German-driven European Community. They are linked in a four-decade-old Euro-Atlantic enterprise that the participants are discovering, to their surprise, is a real community and not just a frontier alliance against the wolves. The trans-Atlantic community is in its own way already post-national—not to the same degree as the EC, to be sure, but with that mutually perceived interdependence that has made NATO the longest-lived alliance in history.

Within this community the time has come to shift some of the burden of leadership, both in funding and in initiatives, to the Europeans in general and Germany-in-Europe in particular. The time has come to acknowledge that trans-Atlantic policy debates have long since gone beyond traditional clashes of monolithic national interest to become, in effect, exercises in domestic coalition-building between ever-shifting constituencies that now span the Atlantic.

In this community the Germans are being forced by circumstance to abandon their dream of remaining an apolitical Switzerland writ large. They will increasingly exercise leadership in the EC, eastern Europe, the Euro-Atlantic community and the Group of Seven.

Surely the Americans should welcome such positive assertiveness by their "partners in leadership."

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  • ELIZABETH POND is a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow in Central Europe and author of a forthcoming book on German unification for the Twentieth Century Fund.
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